The vernal equinox—springtime. It is a beautiful and turbulent time of year when all living things are wondering if today will be one of warmth or will it deliver a late season winter gale. It is a day of anticipation for what comes next. Seasons introduce change. Seasons create a sense of motion. Seasons orient us as to where we are and where we still have to go.
Persuasive communicators speak in seasons (Elmore and Drury, 2012). They use seasons to prepare the audience for what is going to come next. Just like the cooler temperatures of autumn prepare us for the much colder winter days ahead, a persuasive attorney prepares the jury for what they will eventually need to do. Spring temperatures prompt us to take specific actions: we get our short sleeves, umbrellas, and lighter coats out of the back of the closet, preparing us for the warm, rainy days ahead. Jurors need to be warmed up, too, so that they can take specific actions at the end of the trial. It is like the old tale of the harvest—if you jump right into the outcome without planting the seeds much earlier, you end up with nothing.
There is good research on persuasion that identifies several speaker “seasons” that can be used in varying orders during opening and closing:
- Engage: tell the jury you have a story for them to listen to and figure out. The word “story” itself will engage most people because we all have always loved stories.
- Connect: let jurors know this is not really an unusual story, but is one they have each had some experience with in their lives. Use an analogy you learned from a focus group or mock trial deliberation, like, “This story is like sharing a cell phone with your friend . . .”
- The Main Point: let them know your central theme. Tell them explicitly, “Here is the main point of our case . . .”
- Support: reveal one strong piece of evidence that illustrates The Main Point, even if there are going to be 5 or 6 other points or 5 or 6 other pieces of information they are going to get along the way. If they see that your Main Point has support, then it is easy to believe.
- Personalize: here is where the attentive attorney can take a juror answer from voir dire and tailor a speaking point to match it. This draws in the jurors, shows that you listened to them, shows that you think their opinions matter, and includes them in the trial as participants rather than as outside observers. Be subtle, but don’t be afraid to try it.
- Illustrate: let jurors see what life would be like if they were to embrace The Main Point. The world would be fairer. The world would be back in balance. The good guys would win, as they should.
Your delivery/tempo /voice has seasons, too. Speakers, just like ballerinas and baseball pitchers, keep interest alive by changing speeds. Watch the “I Have a Dream” speech and you will see a master of changing tempos at work. Starting out low and slow. Rising up. Catching fire. Sitting down in the storm. King followed this formula, working the crowd into a frenzy, then walked off. He knew he had gotten his point across. He did not belabor the point or become intoxicated listening to himself. He simply stepped away from the microphone as the storm raged on. The audience was ready to act.
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